TRAVEL AGENT WAS LUCKY ENOUGH TO FIND Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO) Chairman Allen Chastanet enjoying a little alone time between meetings and interviews at the 30th annual Caribbean Tourism Conference in San Juan, Puerto Rico, and we were glad we could persuade the popular tourism official to do an exclusive interview. Here's what Chastanet, minister of tourism and civil aviation for St. Lucia, wants travel agents to know about his island and the Caribbean in general.
Projects in Development
St. Lucia will get its first casino—a Divi Resorts property, developed by Treasure Bay—by 2009. It will be the first venue in St. Lucia where gambling is permitted, although locals (at least under the present law) will not be permitted to gamble. Another two casinos are expected to open in the next three years, according to Chastanet. The total investment in all three casinos is more than $160 million.
There are 2,500 hotel rooms under development, which will be added to St. Lucia's current inventory of 4,200 rooms. The hotel growth represents an investment of more than $1 billion, and is expected to create about 5,000 jobs. Among the new properties are The Landings, which belongs to RockResorts; Raffles Resort; Westin; and Ritz-Carlton.
Apple Vacations is looking to launch a charter program to St. Lucia beginning in February or March out of Chicago. Chastanet told us the tourism board is also looking into getting charter service from Boston.
As for scheduled air service, he says American Eagle will commence flights from San Juan to St. Lucia's Hewanorra Airport in early 2008. This is huge for upscale clients, because the airport is close to Anse Chastanet, Jade Mountain and other high-end properties.
Agents Can Do Their Part
"The villa market in St. Lucia has grown remarkably," Chastanet told us. "Agents can book these villas and also take advantage of rental car opportunities to go along with them. Charter yachts are also becoming a growing business in St. Lucia and there is a tremendous opportunity for agents to take advantage of this." Chastanet says all the island's marinas are being renovated, increasing capacity from 300 to 650 yachts, at a cost of $250 million.
"When you look at most U.S. travel agents, obviously the Caribbean is a major part of their business," Chastanet says. "If we create more of a demand for Caribbean product, agents can only benefit."
Agents can do their part as well: Realize that there is something for everyone in the Caribbean. If clients want a larger island, then the Bahamas, Aruba and Puerto Rico make great fits. But for those looking for a quiet escape, remind clients that the Caribbean is full of smaller, lesser-known, less-crowded islands.
"The smaller destinations can't do as much advertising," Chastanet says. "Agents really need to do the promoting for these islands. It will only lead to more business for them."